Saturday, February 23, 2013

How Christian Love Bears On Intimacy In Marriage

Dear friends and readers:

The following was composed while my series on love was being considered.  So I saved it to post after the finish of that series.  The date I wrote it was February 5, 2013, and I originally started it as a post for Facebook, but I got a little carried away and ended up with something more appropriate to my blog.  The photo was shared by its creator on Valentine's day, but I thought it  a good one for this post and a good theme text even though I don't directly quote it in the essay.  Enjoy:

Today the verse in the devotional I use, it's called "Daily Heavenly Manna," and was first published in 1905, came from 1 Thess. 4:3.  But I would like to present the verse in context to bring home the thought the Apostle was making instead of just what the comment in the Manna zeroed in on, which is appropriate:

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such as we also warned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but holiness."  (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; NKJV)

Paul, here, is talking about marriage and adultery.  But notice how he speaks about marriage in in terms of sanctification and honor.  In several places Paul expands on how that should be.  Probably one of the most significant passages really explains what Paul meant as to the relationship of the man and the wife in marriage on the sexual side, which is what Paul was speaking to.  That is from his first letter to the Corinthians:

“Now concerning the things of which you wrote me it is good for a man not to touch a woman [that is to engage in immoral conduct such as fornication or adultery, as his next statement makes clear].  Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband.  Let the husband render to his the affection due her and likewise also the wife to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.  And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does.  Do not deprive on another except with consent for a time that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together agin so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control,”  (1 Corinthians 7:1-5; NKJV)

I think this is one often misused passage.  But what is noticeable and appropriate to the passage I’m discussing is this thought of the way marital possession goes.  Paul clearly writes that it isn’t a one-way street and both are entitled to their needs, not just the husband.  Paul also wrote of the matter in a different way to the Ephesians, where he emphasized relations in marriage as a whole instead of just the sexual side.  The passage is Ephesians 5:22-33 and for a time was famous for the ruckus it caused in the media when a Baptist leader cited verse 22 in particular and feminists took umbrage.

What they ignored was the rest of the passage where not only is the wife told to submit to her husband’s leadership as the Church submits to Christ’s, but the man is to love his wife as the Christ loves the Church (Thess. 5:25).  But he goes further by telling husbands that they are also to love their wives as their own bodies, which in a sense they are under the biblical principle of married couples being one flesh (vss. 28-29,Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:3-6).

The point of this came to mind when I saw a photo meme shared by a friend about a real man continuing to treat his wife after their marriage the same way he did before.  As I’ve just outlined the same meaning behind the meme is what God’s word teaches, but it takes the thought further by telling the man to treat his wife as he would himself in all matters, and telling him that he has no authority over his own body in sexual matters, because ownership in marriage is not a one-way thing.

I am well aware of the objection many women have to the thought of being owned by their husbands.  That is the way this world teaches them to think.  But a “real man,” that is one who really follows God’s word, will treat the owner of his body, his wife with the entire honor she is due.   But that message goes both ways as well.

It is often said that one must also consider the context of the times in which a passage was written and its audience.  I’m one who believes that is important as well.  In the times the New Testament was written men were the masters of their families.  Women weren’t much more than chattel, or property, which weren’t much more in the arrangement than brood mares.  Abuse was common, as we often still see in many lands today.  Women had little or no rights.  So what the apostle wrote was nothing less than radical, breathtakingly radical at that.

Yet the apostle in not one, but several places pushed the thought that Christians were not to be like that.  Women weren’t just property; they were fellow members of the Church, the future rulers of the Kingdom.  And Christian men were expected to treat them so, with the same love commanded by the Christ of his disciples just before his death on the cross (Joh. 13:34 and which he repeated for good measure that same night at Joh. 15:12).  So they were to be loved with the same love Christ had for them, that is with love so strong that they would die for their wives if need be.

That being the case, why would any Christian maltreat his wife, in any aspect of their marriage?  By the same token why would a Christian sister treat her husband badly?  If we love our spouse to the same degree that Christ loved us would we not also extend that love to the marriage bed?  Of course we would!  In that case we wouldn’t be demanding of each other and we would also be willing to fill each other’s needs as long as they aren’t unseemly, even if those needs aren’t convenient at the time.  In other words, we would be giving in intimate matters to the extent we can.  And that goes both ways.   

The man’s headship is in an administrative capacity as to the organization and running of the family, not the pleasures of the bed.  So while that means we should willingly give in the bed, it also means we would respect our spouse’s unwillingness to engage in acts they find distasteful and that we would be considerate and try not to burden them with our desires when we know they aren’t up to it.  Such is the way of love, love doesn’t “seek its own interests,” that is put its wants first (1 Cor. 13:5).

Thank you for reading my message for today, and I hope that through it you saw things in a different way, one which will lead to success in your marriage if you are married.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Study of Christian Love Part 6

Now we come to the final part of our series my friends and readers.  Paul now wraps up his exposition, starting his conclusion this way:

“Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away."  (1Co 13:8)

“Love never faileth.”  The Greek word here is ἐκπίπτω  (G1601).  The verb is in the present active indicative.  So in modern English that would be “Love doesn’t fail.”  Thayers Lexicon states it to signify in this verse the thought of “to fall from a place from which one cannot keep”.  However, one other occurrence of this word my shed more light on what Paul means here since it comes from another one of his writings.   That would be his use of it at Romans 9:6, where we read:

“But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel”   (Rom 9:6)

Here Paul uses the word to express the thought that God’s word never goes forth without result, in other words what God wills always takes place.  As a studious Jew Paul was well aware of God’s pronouncement on the matter in Isaiah:

“For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”  (Isa 55:10-11)

This is precisely the thought expressed in Romans and it is our belief that Paul was expressing something much like it in 1 Corinthians.  God is love (1 John 4:8) therefore everything he does is an expression of his love, even his justice.  So our love cannot fail to have results if we cultivate and use it to the fullest extent possible.  Love is powerful.  And this is most appropriate considering where Paul goes next.

Paul tells us that the gifts of the Spirit the brethren were so proud of there in Ancient Corinth would end.  The brethren had a problem back then in the way they saw things because of the nature of the gifts given back then.  They were miracles and some more spectacular than others.  The problem was that those with the more spectacular gifts seemed to have more prestige than those with others.  This chapter is part of an exposition refuting their thinking which started back in chapter twelve and continues to chapter fourteen, where Paul tells them to adjust their thinking and seek out the more important gifts while they could.  That was because a time would come when those gifts would cease, but when?

“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.”
(1Co 13:9-12)

Simply put the day would come when the Church would grow up in the knowledge of God and his plan.  At the time the Church had an incomplete knowledge of divine things.  Scrolls of the scriptures were expensive and not easy to come by.  And the word of God wasn’t complete as Paul and several others were in the process of writing down what God intended.  Even after the biblical canon was established it wouldn’t become widely available to the world, and the members of the Church until the invention of the printing press made cheap publication of it, and knowledge gleaned from it, possible.

So at the time Paul wrote the Church needed a little something extra to give them what they needed to make their calling sure, and some of the gifts provided that extra boost, which was why Paul counsels to seek those particular gifts out in the next chapter of his letter.  But after that, and especially in the “last days,” when knowledge would increase, including in matters of truth, those gifts would not be needed (Dan. 12:4; 1 Cor. 13:10).  So God would no longer give them out.  That leads us to the question of what we’re left with if we don’t have those gifts.  Paul answers that question for us in one of his most famous verses:

“But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
(1Co 13:13)

We are left with faith, hope and love.  These are not only the things which will carry us over the finish line successfully, but will also identify us as God’s true Church.  But the most important of those is love, the love we discussed in this series on First Corinthians chapter thirteen. 

We hope that you, my readers, received not one, but several blessings from this study on genuine Christian love.  We not only examined why it is important, but what it is and is not.  We now know how that love acts and can see why both our lives and the lives of those around us would benefit from our cultivating this most important quality and acting on it.

I hope you have a blessed day my dear readers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Study of Christian Love Part 5

Greetings again my dear readers:

So far we’ve covered a lot of territory in our look at the qualities of agape love which the Apostle Paul brought to the attention of his fellow Christians in Corinth.  I imagine you never really thought there was so much to it.  But as we learned in the first three verses of that important chapter in First Corinthians it is of such vital importance to our salvation that we should really try to understand the subject as thoroughly as possible, and its application in our lives.  That is why this series tries to leave no stone unturned.   We move on:

“It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”  (1Co 13:6)

Do we entertain ourselves with stories of people doing things we know God does not approve of?  Do we find ourselves in agreement with ideas and actions which we know from God’s word he finds offensive?  Do we listen to gossip about others?  Do we secretly rejoice when others get away with something?  Those are all things involved in rejoicing in wrongdoing.

We don’t have to do anything ourselves, just passively approve of them in some way to be acting contrary to Agape love.  So, on the contrary, we avoid such approval and act positively by going the opposite direction.  Love rejoices with truth.  That means more than just avoiding wrong, it means to be focused on what is true.  That can mean on biblical truth, but it goes much further.  We would want to entertain ourselves with those things we know to be truth in a positive way.  We would rejoice with those who follow truth and work towards its glory.

Thankfully, there is music, books and movies which are healthy to entertain and stories around us to rejoice in.  We should especially be pleased to hear stories of how God has worked wonders in the lives of his saints.  That is one of the best kinds of rejoicing in truth available to us.  But being Christians does not mean we cannot entertain ourselves, if that entertainment is such as befits a holy people.

Now we turn to another aspect of love:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1Co 13:7)

Love bears up under the load of trouble or oppression, which can come in many forms.  Anytime people gather together as groups for a purpose there are inevitably stresses, politics and other things which may become a “load,” or burden.  The church is no exception this side of the veil.  That load may even become quite heavy as imperfect people are won’t to gossip or in other ways make the way harder for others for many reasons.  But not only do we not want to impute wrong motive to such who make the way harder in some way for us, as covered earlier, but love will move us to bear the load until the Lord sees fit to remove it.

Love believes all things, that is the good.  That’s why it is so loath to attribute wrong motives unless one has concrete proof to the contrary.  Love prefers to believe the best of our brethren, neighbors and others with whom we interacted with daily, but especially our dear brethren.  We never no why somebody might do something contrary to what we might expect in the way of manners, something people tend to get so easily bent out of shape over.

I grew up with a mentally ill mother.  Dad left us when I was an early teen and mother preferred to keep us to her self, not allowing us activities away from her.  Her illness was such that she was in no position to teach us children common manners.  And to this day I can go around a room full of people and offend many of them without any idea of how or why.  My beloved wife has tried to help in that regard, but it still happens at time in spite of my best efforts.  I know I give an extreme example, but ask your self next time somebody does so if perhaps it may just be they known no better, as in my case.  If we believe the best, hope the best; then we will be able to endure both the small and the great things which come our way.

Now I’m going to relate the story I mentioned about some Shakers earlier as this is probably the best way to end this part of our consideration before moving on to the last, and a very exciting part of the message Paul gave.  The shakers are virtually gone now, but for a time they were no really small group and what we consider a shining example of love as a quality.  They did have some extreme views; the communal living and denial of marriage and insistence on celibacy for members are all a big part of why they’ve passed from the scene to become a curiosity.

There is a story of a Shaker commune who discovered a significant part of their crops were being stolen.  When they met they chose their typical path of not reporting the crimes to the sheriff so that the thieves might be apprehended and punished.  They decided that if the thieves were stealing it they had a greater need for it than the Shaker community.  But the story doesn’t stop there.  In the spirit of Christian charity they simply planted more crops, enough to provide for the needs of both their community, and those who were stealing.  Would that all who call upon the name of Christ were that way!

The Shakers left us a wonderful set of abandoned communities which now serve as museums and stand in mute testimony to their industriousness, thrift and inventiveness.  But can anyone doubt their greatest legacy left for us consists of stories like that.  They encapsulate everything we’ve discussed so far about love as a practical matter in our lives.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Study of Christian Love Part 4

So far we’ve seen that love is characterized by its kindness in various ways.  It always seeks to act kindly to our neighbors, family and brethren in all things.  The next points Paul brings up further that thought:

“doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil;” (1Co 13:5)

What does it mean to “behave…unseemly?”  The word here used is the Greek verb ἀσχημονέω (G807), which Thayer defined as “to act unbecomingly.”  The same word is used at 1 Corinthians 7:36 by Paul in reference to conduct which might bring a “virgin” into disgrace (Vine’s).  Lexham’s Translation renders it “it does not behave dishonorably,” Murdock’s translation as “doth nothing that causeth shame” and the old Bishop’s Bible renders it as “Dealeth not dishonestlie.”

What we get out of this is that Paul was talking about conduct which goes well beyond “rude,” the word used by many modern translations to translate this word.  We’re talking about dishonest conduct, more or less on the level of the Young man who goes around putting notches on his belt by seducing the young ladies.  It goes without saying that the same goes the other way these days.  It also includes being rude, but this is rudeness beyond simple lack of social graces, it is deliberate.  We think a word not heard often these days, boorish, is another way to describe what this word is getting at.

That naturally leads to the next thing love is not, selfish, the thought embodied in the archaic “seeketh not its own.”  Do we always seek to put our own interests first?  Do we try to shove ourselves to the head of the line, both figuratively and physically?  Do we have to always come out ahead of others in any exchange or dealings both personal or of a business nature?  If so we need to see our motives for what they are and work to replace them with love, which isn’t that way.

Something else about love is that love isn’t provoked.”  The Noun form related to this verb is used of the argument Paul had with Barnabas about taking John Mark with them on his missionary trip to Macedonia (Acts 15:39).  The argument was so sharp that they parted ways, with Barnabas taking Mark with him to Cyprus, as the verse states.  So we understand the word to mean a sharp incitement, as it is used in that sense in a healthy way by Paul at Hebrews 10:24.

So do we get mad if we don’t get what we want, or if others seem to slight us?  Are we easily aroused to anger when others push our buttons, trying to make us mad?  If we have love we’ll be known as somebody hard to arouse into an argument, if ever.  And then only when righteous principles are involved much as what happened when Paul confronted brethren spreading false teachings in Antioch (Acts 15).  But as a rule if we have love in large measure we won’t be easily provoked into arguments.

We finally reach the last point we plan on covering in this post, “taketh not account of evil.”  Paul, here, is using a business expression to make his point, which is that love isn’t resentful of the harm others may do to us.  The Greek means to tally up, or to keep count of harm done to ones self by those around him or her.  Such a person doesn’t forgive liberally, or not recognize the wrong as worthy of note in the first place.

A person rich in love will not keep a memory of the sins, or “evil” committed against them in their hearts and even under certain circumstances may ignore them altogether.  They’ll liberally forgive the small sins committed against them by family, friends, brethren, and neighbors which happen on a daily basis because they realize that more often than not they simply happen because of natural sin.  Given the use of the word, “evil,” they’ll even go the extra mile and not keep dredging up in their hearts some serious sins committed against them.  It will be as if they never happened.  The word used here goes beyond the garden variety of bad, but stops short at the really gross and extreme.  There is a different Greek word for that.

So now we’ve seen some more of the things love isn’t, in the next post we will see the last thing it isn’t, and some of what those rich in love do.